Why Steve Jobs was so Successful at Product Development

Steve Jobs, and the rest of the Apple team, took a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy and turned it into THE most valuable company in the world — the world’s first trillion-dollar market cap.

Looking back to the early days when Jobs had just come back to run the company, it seemed an improbable outcome. They had no unique technology, the products they sold were rapidly moving into commoditization, the consumer products market was overcapitalized (and they had relatively little capital left), they had essentially zero installed capital (very little brick and mortar), and brand power had been in free fall for many years.

Job’s first product, a digital music player, was an unquestioned success, selling several hundred million and close to 100% market share. SanDisk’s Sansa MP3 player was the iPod’s closest competitor, with just an 8% market share.

Apple was not first to market. Many people had the idea of a digital music player long before Apple’s iPod ever came out. The first patent on a digital music player was in 1981 (UK patent 2115996). The iPod was released in 2001. Large and small companies released almost identical products previously, during, and after the iPod.

Why did Apple succeed when everyone else did not? Because Apple understood precisely what the market wanted. Yes, the market wanted a digital music player — that information had been well-established by many. Apple was the only company that fully understood precisely what kind of digital music player the market wanted. The iTunes Store, the UI, the industrial design, the brand, the Apple stores, etc. All of these seemingly small details added up to something essential. All the others were approximately right about what would sell, but only Apple knew exactly what would sell.

One could argue that Jobs’ core skill was determining product market fit. Jobs, and his team, had a highly refined process for determining the requirements for a new product. They knew how to ask the right questions and how to conduct the right market validation experiments.

How can your team become a little bit more like Apple? Start by downloading our Requirements Document Template here:

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